‘Near to the Wild Heart’ by Clarice Lispector – Hurricane Clarice


‘Near to the Wild Heart’ by Clarice Lispector   (1943) – 194 pages      Translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin


You read Clarice for the intensity.

Reading her again, I had to relearn a lesson that I had learned before.

It is often difficult to follow Clarice’s tortuous lines of reasoning. But you always think if you concentrate a little more, don’t get distracted, it will all make perfect sense in the end.

The lesson I learned is to not even try to “get” everything in a Clarice Lispector novel because no matter how hard you try you will not “get” everything. Just relax and give up the struggle to reach full comprehension, because you won’t. Relaxing is probably the best way to “get” what is there. Guilt is a terrible inhibitor to understanding.

The title ‘Near to the Wild Heart’ is taken from the following quote from the novel ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce.

He was alone. He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.”

Yes, Clarice Lispector and James Joyce are both “near to the wild heart of life”.

What Lispector has in common with James Joyce is the manic flight or rush of words that go beyond reason to a deeper understanding. There are very few writers who can go beyond reason to summon up more profound truths.

As Benjamin Moser puts it, Lispector’s writing is “shot through by a ceaseless linguistic searching, a grammatical instability, that prevents them from being read too quickly”.

The situation of this novel is really quite simple. Joana’s mother died when she was very little. Her father died when she was about ten, and she was taken in by an aunt and uncle who had a daughter of their own. She is sent off to a boarding school. Her aunt says of Joana:

She’s a viper. She’s a cold viper, Alberto, there’s no love or gratitude in her. There’s no point liking her, no point doing the right thing by her. I think she’s capable of killing someone…”

Later Joana develops a relationship with Otávio. Here Clarice captures young romance:

Because when he embraced her, he had felt her suddenly come to life in his arms like running water. And seeing her so alive, he had understood crushed and secretly pleased that if she wanted him he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it…When he finally kissed her he himself had finally felt free, forgiven beyond what he knew of himself, forgiven in what he knew lay beneath everything he was.

From then on he had no choice.”

Been there, done that.

However even before Joana marries Otávio, she realizes that she is going to leave him.

To Otávio she’d only be able to say the indispensable words, as if he were a god in a hurry, if she rambled on in one of those leisurely aimless chats, which gave her so much pleasure, she noticed his impatience or his excessively patient, heroic face, Otávio, Otávio. What to do?”

As soon as they are married, Otávio starts up with his old girlfriend Lidia again because “he never sees a woman with a large bust without thinking about laying his head on it”.

When I read Clarice, I have a tendency to want to quote nearly every line in the book.

She felt a perfect animal inside her, full of selfishness and vitality.”


Grade:   B+




5 responses to this post.

  1. ” . . . as if he were a god in a hurry” — what an evocative line! And it made me smile because I think we’ve all known someone a bit like that. I can see why you find so much of the work quotable, if these tidbits here are any indication!

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Russophile,
      My favorite Claire Lispector is ‘Aqua Viva’ which I read earlier this year. It is probably the most experimental of Lispector’s novels. It’s only 88 pages and just about all of it is quotable.

      Liked by 1 person


  2. I have had Lispector on my wishlist forever, it seems, but I am not going to buy any more titles for 1001 Books until I’ve read all the ones I’ve got.

    Liked by 1 person


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